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Travel deal: Free tours to 12 lesser-known desert spots in California

Travel deal: Free tours to 12 lesser-known desert spots in California
Whitewater Canyon in the Coachella Valley will be the destination for the first hike in a series led by the Wilderness Society. (Jack Thompson / Wildlands Conservancy)

Never heard of Trona Pinnacles or Fossil Falls? It's time to put these desert hot spots on your bucket list.

The lesser-known wildlands are as much a part of California's landscape as Yosemite's granite walls, but they haven't gotten much attention until now.

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The deal: The Wilderness Society is starting a series of hikes called "Desert Treasures: 12 California Gems Worth Protecting." The nonprofit environmental group wants to raise the profile of places they say need more environmental love and protection. Guided hikes start this month to a dozen places you may never have seen. (Download a brochure of all 12 places here.)

First up is Whitewater Canyon, an area the group calls "nearly hidden in a canyon north of Interstate 10 near Palm Springs." The three-to-four-hour hike will explore the canyon and nearby 2,851-acre Mission Creek Preserve operated by the Wildlands Conservancy. Bighorn sheep and bears roam this canyon, as well as the Southwestern willow flycatcher and the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard. (The latter two are endangered species.)

Other places for upcoming hikes (yet to be scheduled; they'll continue into 2015) include the eerie spires of Trona Pinnacles (some of which is under federal protection) east of Ridgecrest and Fossil Falls at the southern end of the Owens Valley.

When: The Whitewater Canyon hike starts at 8 a.m. Oct. 18 and begins in the preserve's parking lot of California 62. Space is limited; RSVP to Matt_Jatovsky@tws.org.

Details: Wear sturdy shoes (no flip-flops), take a quart or two of water, and pack some snacks. Children are welcome to come, provided they can go the distance.

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